Why Do Some People Not Have A Gag Reflex?

Otherwise known as the pharyngeal reflex, our gag reflex can be activated by physical or mental triggers, according to Medical News Today. When activated, the pharynx — which runs between the mouth and nose down to the esophagus — contracts in order to hinder the body's ability to swallow. Although gagging may not be a particularly pleasant sensation, it serves as a protective mechanism. For example, our gag reflex can stop us from choking as we eat. In other instances, it may activate in response to mental triggers associated with feelings of disgust, as well as certain tastes or smells. The gag reflex is also used in the determination of whether or not a patient is clinically brain dead, according to research published in StatPearls.

The back of the tongue, roof of the mouth, tonsil area, and back of the throat can all serve as gag reflex trigger points, reports LiveScience. However, you may have noticed that some people appear to gag more easily, while others seemingly have no gag reflex at all. Those who gag more readily — whether due to acid reflux, anxiety, activation during dental procedures, or more — are considered to have a hypersensitive gag reflex (HGR), according to StatPearls. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, what about people who seem to lack a gag reflex?

How to reduce your gag reflex sensitivity

In severe instances, having no gag reflex whatsoever could indicate cranial nerve damage, brain death, or other serious health condition (via StatPearls). However, those with a seemingly minimal gag reflex may have trained their gag reflex to respond in such a way, notes Medical News Today. While it's never advised to obstruct the body's natural reflexes altogether, those with a hypersensitive gag reflex may be able to take steps to reduce their gag reflex's reactivity. For example, utilizing a distraction or implementing relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises, may help lessen the sensitivity of one's gag reflex at the moment. In addition, acupuncture or acupressure treatments may potentially help ease a gag reflex by targeting specific trigger points.

Alternatively, individuals may be able to progressively desensitize their gag reflex through the use of a toothbrush (per Medical News Today). Twice daily, try inching your toothbrush gradually towards the back of the tongue. When you begin to feel the urge to gag, stop and brush the area for roughly 15 to 30 seconds. Eventually, the repeated exposure of the toothbrush to these oral trigger points may no longer prompt a hypersensitive gag reflex.